[ 9 August 2016 - Tuesday ] 

In the Plaza de San Fransisco de Asis before the storm.

Heat induced siesta

Havana are you ready?  A Carnival Cruise's ship.

How I discovered one of my favorite restaurants, El del Frente, thinking "That looks nice, how do I sit up there?"

"Oh, perhaps through this skinny little door!"

Still craving that chutney...

Confusion About the US-Cuban Relationship

[ Written sometime while in Havana shortly after finishing The Cuba Reader: History. Culture, Politics ]

So here is where I am confused:

  • Batista was corrupt and Cubans were happy when he was ousted.  But many wealthy Cubans emigrated (immigrated?  I forget the difference) from Cuba to the US.
  • Revolution: The most poor were no longer hungry and now had land of their own.  But, Fidel, and the state, took businesses and property, money and possessions from everyone who had them in order to redistribute the wealth.
  • “Infant and child mortality and life expectancy continue to rival or surpass those of other wealthy industrialized countries, including the United States” (p.  596 Cuba Reader).  But people can’t afford (or it isn’t available to them) to buy soap or cooking oil.
  • Cuba sends thousands of medical workers overseas a year to volunteer their services, but leaves a starving dog to die in the street.  (As far as I’m concerned this can not be brushed off as cultural, if you have the expertise to have one of the highest infant and child mortality, then you can see a starving dog and know that it too can be helped.  And should be helped.)
  • Pedro Pan was set up so that Cuban children could come to the United States to escape Castro and Communism, but Castro said that the rumors circulating that he was going to round up children and sent them to the Soviet Union for indoctrination was perpetrated by the CIA and United States in order to undermine him.
  • “Since 1990, the Cuban government, without outside support, has fought just to stay afloat, to retain basic medical and soil services, as well as its vast education complex, and to provide some subsidized food and other goods to the population.” (pp. 624 Cuba Reader) But, in 1993 the US tightened the embargo, the 1996 Helms-Burton Act “impedes foreign investment by opening US courts to lawsuits against foreign companies that do business in Cuba (how this is even allowed is beyond me…), the 1994 Clinton lead “wet foot, dry foot” (not necessarily unfounded but another notch), on 9 November 1999 the UN voted on whether the US should lift the embargo and the vote went 155 to 2, the US and Israel the only “no,” the US had “lifted bans on the sale of food and medicine to Iran, Libya, Sudan, and North Korea, the only country that was still denied humanitarian assistance was Cuba.”  (All this knowledge and the wording of the first quote, makes me really sad and disappointed in our country, I get that the Cuban Missile Crisis was really not good (like could have destroyed the entire planet) but is that still a reason 54 years later we are still punishing the people?  Punishing Castro is probably what we tell ourselves but as usually it's the people as pawns that pay.  I want to look into whether there were humanitarian, private based ones, organizations coming to Cuba to help.  Tom said he’s been coming here with doctors from Texas for 17 years.)
  • Fidel tried, tries, hard to keep his people free from capitalism and imperialism, tries to keep society egalitarian but at the cost of a city in steep decay?  (For me I can’t stop thinking about the ethical question surrounding this.  I still think capitalism and free-markets are a better reality than what I can see around me right now, but then I know that capitalism does come at the cost of having a class of poverty.  Which is more ethical?  An entire nation in poverty or a small number in poverty?  Then I say, well the more well-off people will help those in poverty.  Or I think that communism stifles desire for change, it kills the spirit and motivation for working hard to do better, and possible in its place leaves a “What the point of trying attitude?”  I want to know how Fidel and Raul live, how do the state diplomats live?  Is Castro starving?  Is he rationing out his own food, can he buy soap and cooking oil?  Does his house lose electricity for at random times, does he have to access the internet from the public streets?  Is his house crumbling and falling apart?  Me thinks not.)

People to Know: Yoani Sánchez

 
 

I bought Yoani Sánchez's book Havana Real: One Woman Fights to Tell the Truth About Cuba Today because I wanted to read something that wasn't a historical account of the city.  As well, it's not that I didn't understand that life for Cubans was harder than anything I myself had ever experienced, it's just the knowledge I had wasn't specific enough to relate to, especially in the present day.  The book is actually a compilation of posts from her blog, Generación Y.  The blog's name reflects all the children whose first names were inspired by the cultural influences of the Soviet Union and thus started with a Y (Yoani herself was born in 1975). 

I've copied and linked two of her posts below that I particularly liked:

Come and Live It

Inspired by one of the many tourist advertisements, an idea occurred to me to attract visitors to the Island.  It is not an ecological tour to appreciate nature or an historic tour of the country’s plazas and monuments.  Stay “a lo cubano,” as a Cuban, could be the slogan of this tourist campaign, condemned in advance to lack interest for its possible target audience.  Come and live it, it would say on the cover of a ration book, which would be given to each of those who embark on this adventure.

Accommodations would not look like the luxurious rooms displayed by the hotels in Varadero or Cayo Coco, since our tour operators would suggest dingy rooms in Central Havana, tenements in Buena Vista and a crowded shelter for hurricane victims.  The tourists who buy this package wouldn’t use convertible currency, but for their expenses for a two week stay would have half the average monthly wage, three hundred Cuban pesos.  Thus, they could not ride in foreign currency taxis, or drive a rental car on the country’s roads.  The use of public transport would be obligatory for those interested in this new method of travel.

Restaurants would be forbidden to those who opt for this excursion and they would receive eighty grams of bread each day.  Maybe they’d even have the good fortune to enjoy half a pound of fish before they leave on their return flight.  To travel to other provinces they wouldn’t have the option of Viazul, but instead of spending three days in line for a ticket, they could be given the advantage of being able to buy a seat after only one day of waiting.  They would be prohibited from sailing on a yacht or renting a surfboard, so they wouldn’t be ending their stay ninety miles away rather than on our Caribbean “paradise.”

At the end of their stay, these risk-taking excursionists would get a diploma of “Connoisseurs of the Cuban Reality,” but they will have to come several more times to be declared “adapted” to our everyday absurdity.  They will leave thinner, sadder, and with an obsession with food, which they will satisfy in the supermarkets of their countries, and above all with a tremendous allergy to tourism ads.  The golden advertisements that show a Cuba of mulattas, rum, music and dancing will not be able to hide the panorama of collapsing buildings, frustration and inertia that they have already known and lived.

Translator’s note:
300 Cuban pesos is about $12 U.S.

 

HOSPITALS: You bring everything?

A bucket in one hand, a pillow under my arm, and a fan balanced on my hip.  I enter the door of the oncology hospital and the backpack over my shoulder blocks the custodian from seeing my face.  It’s of little importance because the man is used to the fact that the patients’ families must bring everything, so my Baroque structure of fans, bucket and pillowcase doesn’t surprise him.  He doesn’t know it yet but, in a bag hanging off me somewhere, I’ve brought him an omelet sandwich so he’ll let me stay after visiting hours.

I come into the room and Mónica is holding the hand of her mother, whose face is increasingly haggard.  She has cancer of the esophagus and there is little that can be done, although the woman still doesn’t know it.  I’ve never understood doctors’ refusals to inform one, directly, how little time is left before the end; but I respect the decision of the family, although I don’t join in the lie that she will soon be well.

The room has a thin light and the air smells of pain.  I begin to unpack what I’ve brought.  I take out the little sack of detergent and the aromatic with which I’ll clean the bath; its aroma floods everything.  With the bucket we can bathe the lady, using the cup to pour, because the water faucet doesn’t work.  For the great scrubbing I brought a pair of yellow gloves, afraid of the germs that spread in a hospital.  Mónica tells me to continue unpacking and I extract the package of food and a puree especially for the sick.  The pillow has been a wonder and the set of clean sheets manages to cover the mattress, stained with successive effluvia.

The most welcome is the fan, which I connect to two peeled wires hanging from the wall.  I continue to unpack and come to the little bag of medical supplies.  I have obtained some needles appropriate for the IV, because the one in her arm is very thick and causes pain.   I also bought some gauze and cotton on the black market.  The most difficult thing—which cost me days and incredible swaps—is the suture thread for the surgery they are going to do tomorrow.  I also brought a box of disposable syringes since she yells to high heaven when she sees the nurse with a glass one.

To distract her, I’ve come loaded with a radio, and a nearby patient has brought a television.  My friend and her mom can watch the soap opera, while I look for the doctor and give him a gift sent by the sick woman’s husband.  When bedtime comes a cockroach crosses the wall near the bed and I remember that I also brought some insect spray.  In the backpack I still have some medicines and a little gift for the girl in the lab.  I have money in my pocket, because ambulances are for the most critical cases and when they send her home, evicted, we will need to take a Panataxi.

In front of our bed there’s an old woman who eats the watery soup she’s been given by the hospital staff.  Around her bed there’s no bag brought by her family and she doesn’t have a pillow for her head.  I position the fan so that she will also get the cool air and talk about the arrival of another hurricane.  Without her realizing it I touch the wood of the door frame, whether to expel the fear of disease or in horror at the conditions in the hospital, I don’t really know.  A woman passes by shouting that she has bread and ham for sale for the visitors and I lock myself in the bathroom which smells like jasmine after my cleaning.

 

"Hip Hop Forever"

[ 8 August 2016 - Monday ] 

One of my favorites - those colors together!  So many people are unintentional artists.

An old sign from the 50s - I used it a lot as a landmark to navigate around Habana Veija.  I'll be honest, as I passed underneath it I always quickened my pace...

Green moat of the Castillo de la Real Fuerza

"Hip Hop Forever - Under Ground" seen outside the Bacardí Building

I think I've posted a photo of this building before but the newness and freshness of the renovation work seems absurd and caricature-like.

Woooo, I found another wifi spot!  And this one doesn't have a starving dog laying nearby.

The tone of this street art was unlike any of the others that I had seen thus far.

Stoop sittin' - a universally favorited pastime.

Stoop sittin' - a universally favorited pastime.

A young boy caught me taking this photo - well taking and re-taking - and I think he was perplexed. (:

Stages of renovation / preservation.

Perpetuating the superficial identity of Havana - but golly it was so perfectly photogenic.

Black on toilet paper

[ 7 August 2016 - Sunday ]

I felt like a sack of shit (as Martin says) today - hoping this cold goes away fast.  I've run out of the Hotel Nacional tissues and have been going through Hostal la Gargola toilet paper like mad blowing my nose, the housekeeper probably is wondering what the heck I'm doing, lol.  Running out of tissues to blow my nose with is something that I wouldn't worry about for half a second in any other city or even country.  But I seriously haven't seen a single grocery or "convenience" store anywhere!

So I kind of just wandered around not sure what else to do with myself, lots of things were closed since it's a Sunday and I didn’t really have the energy for much else.  I ended up sitting in a park for an hour or so just people watching and reading, trying to not think about the starving dog on Obispo as I watched two healthy ones playing in the grass together.